Eyes On Richmond - Trip Pollard
On Friday, Tripp Pollard the Richmond Director of the Southern Environmental Law Center closed out the 13th season of the Eyes on Richmond speaker series, assessing the biggest current threats to the environment and what can be done about them. Craig Carper reports.
Pollard discussed dangers of offshore drilling highlighted by the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which spilled more than 20 times as much oil as the Exxon Valdez incident. He says the disaster should serve as an opportunity to distance ourselves from fossil fuels in general,instead of expanding offshore drilling.
Pollard: On the transportation front, about 97 percent of the energy we use comes from fossil fuels. Nationwide, we consume about 21 million barrels of oil every day and in Virginia, consume almost five billion gallons of motor fuels a year, and in fact, the Richmond area has one of the highest amounts of carbon emissions per capita in the entire country from transportation and residential energy use. The impacts are going to be particularly felt, I think, in Virginia. Hampton Roads, for example, is among the 10 largest areas in the entire world in terms of the amount of infrastructure and building assets that are at risk from sea level rise.
Pollard said while the auto industry works to perfect and streamline electric and alternatively-fueled vehicles, the government can help reduce emissions in the short term by raising fuel economy standards.
Pollard: I do think the technology is there, if we get the right policies in place, that we could have a largely petroleum-free vehicle infrastructure within the not-too-distant future.
Pollard said current transportation and land use patterns and policies are unsustainable, and take public funds away from education, health care and other core services.
Pollard: In the Richmond area, you see here during this snapshot, the amount of land that we developed during this period increased over three times the rate of population growth. In fact, if recent trends continue, Virginia will develop more land in the next 40 years than in the previous 400, and our answer has tended to be, well, if we get congestion, let’s widen the road or build a bypass. We've built bypasses of our bypasses now and we’re really reaching the limit of our ability to afford this, as well as just physical space. There are estimates, for example, to handle the congestion on I-95, you would need to triple the number of lanes on I-95, which there’s just no room to do that.
And there are a host of alternatives to doubling the size of that highway. For example, there’s a rail line that parallels I-81 for most of its length; much of it hasn't been upgraded in a long time and with a reasonable investment, estimated to avoid 640,000 tons of CO2 annually. Virginia has started to put money into this now, Norfolk Southern has as well, we're going to move toward this, but it’s the type of option and alternative that we haven’t tended to think about and explore and pursue.
Pollard says the greatest opportunity for the country as a whole and for citizens on an individual basis to reduce their carbon footprint and save money in the process, is through efficiency.
Pollard: EnergyStar program, for example, which looks at appliances and more efficient applicances, saved enough energy in one year to avoid the greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 23 million cars. Well, if every U.S. household changed just five light bulbs, it would be the equivalent of 8 million cars every year. There are estimates that Virginia could meet almost 20 percent of its electricity demand through additional energy efficiency by 2025.
Pollard stressed the need for mixed-use development that blends commercial and residential zones, eliminating much of the need for excessive travel.
Pollard: Actually, some of the best examples are renovations and revitalization of our existing neighborhoods; for example, a lot of the work being done right now in Manchester, you’ve got an amazing footprint there. The infrastructure is already paid for. It’s very walkable, very close to downtown and there's a lot of exciting activity going on there. Another example is the long revitalization of Broad Street. Richmond is really blessed with strong neighborhoods and some wonderful structures and infrastructure, but we need to put much more of our attention into revitalizing and making the most of that, rather than building farther out.
Tripp Pollard is a Senior Attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, a non-profit, non-partisan organization headquartered in Charlottesville. They work in six states to advocate for environmental preservation. Pollard runs the Richmond office and is the director of the center’s land and community program, which promotes smart growth and sustainable transportation.
Craig Carper, WCVE News, Richmond